Sunday, October 10, 2010


Congratulations to you, Liu Xiaobo, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. You won it for suggesting that people should have the right to choose their leaders. A simple concept, really. One that is easily taken for granted by those who have the right to choose. As I understand it, your leaders are saying that there is no need for you to choose. You ought to trust them more.
Here in Edmonton we are in the midst of a civic election campaign. It is almost impossible for us to understand what it would mean to live in a country where you could be thrown in jail for 11 years for supporting the idea of making choices on a ballot. Here in Edmonton, they beg us to vote. We tire of hearing political rhetoric. We grumble that there’s nobody we want to vote for. Sometimes we don’t even vote. Can you imagine that?
Yesterday I voted in our upcoming civic election. I cast my vote in the advance poll (note to all candidates who plan to interrupt my dinner by having your machines call me before the election, it’s too late.) I voted privately and independently. As I pushed the final button to roll my ballot out of the voting machine, I thought of you, Liu Xiaobo. I wondered what you’d say if you knew how far we in Edmonton have gone to ensure a private and independent vote.
My private and independent vote was assured by a machine that read me the ballot and allowed me to choose candidates by pressing buttons. Before the ballot was confirmed, it gave me a chance to hear my votes again, a chance to be sure I’d done what I wanted to do. We’ve had this marvellous opportunity for several municipal elections. It may not seem like such a big thing to others. In fact, the country and the province have not figured out how to make it happen in their elections. If you are a blind chooser of leaders for the country or the province, somebody has to swear an oath of reliability and help you cast your vote. But when I vote for civic government in Edmonton, I cast my own vote for mayor, councillor and school trustee.
Many years ago an election official asked me if it really mattered that much. “Isn’t it just as good to have somebody you trust mark your ballot according to your instructions?”
I wondered for a moment how to answer. Providing this machine costs money. Is it money well spent? I took a deep breath and I said it mattered to me, even though I did trust the person who would mark my ballot.
I wonder how you’d answer this question, Liu Xiaobo. Would my little quest for independence seem inconsequential to you in view of the larger needs of a wider world? I’d like to ask you, if only they’d let you out of jail.
I do hope they will soon let you out of prison so that you can collect your prize. I also hope they will some day let you cast the vote of your choice in your own country. I suppose there is a cost for democracy everywhere. The cost is higher in some places.

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